Brooklyn Brothers Indicted in Tenant Pushout Scheme [Updated]
Terence Cullen April 16, 2015, 6:05 p.m.
These landlords have given a whole new definition to homewreckers.
Two Brooklyn brothers have been charged with unlawful eviction, along with pushing (or attempting to push) tenants out of rent-regulated buildings in bustling neighborhoods including Bushwick and Williamsburg, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. The pair allegedly had a penchant for nudging tenants out by beginning work on the kitchen and bathroom—leaving some to survive on a hotplate for months—never to be finished.
Joel and Aaron Israel, who own 10 apartment buildings throughout Brooklyn, were arrested this morning and indicted on 15 counts that ranged from grand larceny to burglary to falsifying business records. They face up to 15 years in prison on the burglary charge alone, according to the DA’s office.
“Rent-stabilized apartments are designed to protect tenants and cannot be turned into market-value apartments through intimidation and fraud,” said Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson in prepared remarks. “It’s against the law and we will investigate and vigorously prosecute those who harass and prey on innocent tenants in Brooklyn.”
The brothers’ ultimate plan was to get tenants out so they could charge market rates in the rent-stabilized units, Mr. Thompson alleged. The duo is also charged with filing false paperwork in 2010 for construction at 15 Humboldt Street between Debevoise Street and Flushing Avenue in Williamsburg. The landlords filed documents indicating that they were doing construction on the four-floor building along with the cellar, according to today’s indictment, but in fact had rent-regulated tenants living there at the time.
Joel, 34, then allegedly pulled off a similar scheme a few years later when he filed permits to overhaul 300 Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint. The 2012 paperwork said no one would be living in the three-story building, but there were rent-regulated tenants on the first and third floors when the landlord started to gut the second in March 2013, prosecutors said. He then offered one of the tenants $50,000 to leave her rent-stabilized apartment, which she declined. A month later, she and her neighbors apparently lost heat and by December a vacate order was issued by the city after all utility serves to the building stopped.
In other instances involving the brothers, JBI Management, one of their companies, used “renovations” in a ploy to push the tenants out. At 98 Linden Street, the DA said in a news release issued today, it told at least six people living on the first floor in January 2013 that work had to be done in the kitchen and bathroom, only it was never finished, the DA said, with the rooms getting ripped up, rendered unusable and forcing tenants to relocate—sometimes using public restrooms. Rent in the building was $650 to $700 per month, according to the DA’s office.
As of January 2014, the situation had been unresolved, the New York Daily News reported at the time, and the state Office of Rent Administration lowered the tenants’ rent to $1 per month until the issue was settled.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was shameful that the brothers took away the basic rights of a tenant.
“It is not only unconscionable, but it is flat-out illegal for any landlord to subject families to living without running water or a functioning bathroom or kitchen,” the governor told the News.
A similar situation with the Israels took place at 324 Central Avenue in Bushwick, when a nine-year tenant came home in February 2014 to find his kitchen and bathroom demolished, rendering the apartment unusable. After a legal battle, the landlords were found responsible for restoring the apartment, but, prosecutors said, that work was never completed. The DA’s office also alleges in today’s indictment that the duo lied on 2013 work permits that the building was vacant and thus null to rent regulations.
Joel Israel was held on $50,000 bail, and Aaron Israel was held on $25,000 bail, according to the Department of Corrections. Both brothers had made bail by Friday, said Kevin Keating, the attorney for Joel Israel. John Carman, is defending Aaron Israel, could not be reached for comment.
“Most of the issues raised in the indictment have already been litigated in landlord tenant court without findings of wrongdoing on the part of the building owners,” Mr. Keating said.
Update: This story was edited to include bail information, along with the lawyers for the landlords and comment.